Walkouts, Threats and Negotiations Punctuate Final Legislative Days

Log truck drivers swarmed into Salem to protest legislative passage of a cap and trade proposal, which they say will drive them out of business without perceptibly reduce carbon emissions. The protest stoked a threat by Senate Republicans to stage a second walkout during the 2019 legislative session to delay a vote on the controversial environmental proposal that already has passed the House. [Photo Credit: Claire Withycombe/Capital Capital Bureau]

Log truck drivers swarmed into Salem to protest legislative passage of a cap and trade proposal, which they say will drive them out of business without perceptibly reduce carbon emissions. The protest stoked a threat by Senate Republicans to stage a second walkout during the 2019 legislative session to delay a vote on the controversial environmental proposal that already has passed the House. [Photo Credit: Claire Withycombe/Capital Capital Bureau]

Legislative sessions are easy to start, but a pain to end. Witness what’s happening in Salem as Senate Republicans orchestrated their second walkout and Democratic Governor Brown followed through on her threat to call state police to return lawmakers to the Capitol. She also promised to call a post-July 4 special session if necessary.

The original Senate Republican walkout, which lasted several days, was intended to delay a Senate vote on the $2 billion Student Success Act and its commercial activities tax. The latest Senate GOP threat is aimed at delaying or derailing the cap and trade proposal (House Bill 2020), which they believe will harm Oregon industries such as logging without any perceptible impact on combating climate change. 

The constitutional provision allowing annual sessions requires the 2019 Oregon legislature to adjourn by the end of June 30. A Republican walkout this week may slow down Senate floor votes by denying a quorum. Democrats hold an 18-12 majority, but a quorum requires 20 senators.

The earlier walkout was settled by a negotiation engineered by Brown, who sacrificed gun registration and pro-vaccination legislation to convince Senate Republicans to return and allow the Student Success Act to pass on a partisan basis. This time, Brown has signaled a different approach – calling out the Oregon State Police or dragging lawmakers back into session after July 4.

The prospect of being “arrested” and returned to the state Capitol prompted a sharp outburst by GOP Senator Brian Boquist, who warned on video the governor should send bachelors and well-armed officers to apprehend him. Boquist called himself a “political prisoner.”

Senate GOP Leader Herman Baertschiger served up a similar warning, with a different twist. He vowed to go to federal court, claiming being dragged back to the Capitol would violate his First Amendment free speech rights.

To say the least, it was not a typical day in a legislative session.

Politics, of course, is a lot like kabuki theater. Drama is what you see, but it may mask what’s really going on. Reports were rampant that Senate leaders from both parties were talking about possible amendments to the cap and trade bill, which has already been amended nearly 100 times and passed in its current form in the House by a 36-24 margin.

A walkout by Senate Republicans could jeopardize the policy gains from the first walkout. Advocates of gun registration and pro-vaccination legislation already pounded on the opportunity to revive their bills.

The final days of any legislative session tend to be chaotic, despite the best intentions of well-meaning legislative leaders. All the big issues bottled up during the session or the ones facing 11th-hour negotiating deadlines are suddenly alive. These tend to be issues that can’t just be swept under the rug, so some resolution is necessary.

To outside eyes, the spectacle can seem bizarre and brazen. It is, but it also is how the process grinds to a conclusion, which rarely makes everyone happy, but is enough to allow enough people to vote to go home.

We haven’t seen the final shape of big issues such as cap and trade and a tobacco tax, let alone the infamous Christmas Tree spending bill will enough sugar plums to satisfy exhausted legislators long enough to vote to adjourn. The next few days will be noteworthy for political science nerds and nonsense to most citizens.

The best consolation you can offer is that it will end, eventually. And, the legislature will be back in town in six months.